A thriller made five years before Burton's death
Jeffrey Ellis | Richardson, Texas United States | 12/10/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Absolution, an English psychological thriller with a strong anti-religion subtext (a genre almost single handedly created by the film's screenwriter Anthony Shaffer with his far superior film The Whicker Man), was one of Richard Burton's final films. After decades of heavy drinking and Liz Taylor, Burton, in his declining years, tended to show every sign of his lifestyle. This was often to the detriment of the film's he was involved in and Absolution is no different. In this film, Burton plays a rather niave, obviously repressed priest whose latent feelings for one of his students (Burton's character teaches Latin at a Catholic school) leaves him open to psychological manipulation. However, one look at Burton's tired, blood-shot eyes and his ravaged face and its hard to buy Burton in the role. Which is unfortunate because after years of contributing little to his performances beyond his famous voice, Burton actually does a pretty good job. With the exception of a few over-the-top scenes at the end, Burton brings a subtle sense of anguish to a character that, otherwise, would have been totally unsympathetic. In the film's best scenes, Burton suggests a great humanity underneath the priest's chilly surface and he makes the priest's sexual and later psychological torments quite believable.The film's twisty plot is pure Shaffer -- a rigid, conservative system is thrown into chaos by the arrival of a liberating, almost pagan force (which, in a typical Shaffer twist, turns out to be as false as the establishment it destroys) and a great deal of senseless violence ensues. In Absolution, that establishment is the Catholic Boys School where Richard Burton teaches and dotes on one student (Dominic Guard) to an uncomfortable degree. That pagan force shows up as a bearded, Scottish drifter and theif (comedian Billy Connolly) who camps out in the countryside outside the school and ends up befriending Guard and leading the youth away from Burton and religion in general. (One of the film's flaws is that Guard's drastic transformation from good Catholic boy to Pagan prankster comes far too quickly.) Eventually, under Connolly's suggestion, Guard starts to tell Burton elaborate stories of sin during confession -- tormenting the priest with information that, as a priest, Burton is not allowed to share with anyone else. Eventually, what started as a joke spirals out of control into a vortex of murder, madness, and a surprise ending that comes out of nowhere but remains a lot of fun nonetheless.Poorly directed by TV vet Anthony Page, the film's main appeal is to be found in its script and cast. Though not up to Shaffer's best work, Absolution -- especially early on -- displays a good deal of his stringent wit and he does a good enough job of keeping the story moving quickly enough that its not obvious just how ludicrous much of it is. He's helped by strong performances from his principles. Billy Connolly is likeable in a performance that'll surprise Americans who know him only as Howard Hesseman's replacement on Head of the Class. Andrew Kier, the final Prof. Quartermass, is a welcome presence as the school's head master while, as the two most distinctive students, Dominic Guard and David Bradley give nicely nuanced turns that alternate between youthful innocence and enigmatic slyness. Both Guard and Bradley were former child stars and both pretty much vanished from the screen following their performances in this film. In the end, however, this is Burton's film and, even if miscast, he still gives an admirable performance that provides a much needed anchor to Shaffer's plot. Its a reminder -- after years of appearing in such claptrap as The Klansman and the Exorcist sequel, that Burton truly could be a good actor. This performance and his final turn in 1984 both suggest that, in his later years, Burton was finally ready to start acting again. Its difficult not to regret that he didn't get more chances to remind us of just how good he could be."
1 star due to very poor quality of amazon video
P. Wright | NCY, NY | 04/16/2001
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Amazon has duplicated this film on slow speed using very little tape. The result being the quality is so poor, one can barely watch it.It is disgraceful that Amazon would do something like this. It is almost like a boot-legged video.Don't BUY this video from Amazon.com"
Burton's last starring role
Jeffrey Ellis | 04/18/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"A good film, not quite able to break out of TV limitations thanks to a mainly TV director and a script not up to par with Schaffer's prior Sleuth. But the performances and characterisations are excellent, and enough to grip a viewer thinking of England on a rainy afternoon."
A Twisted Game of Cat and Mouse
Bluehigh@aol.com | Wichita, KS | 06/07/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Burton is a priest who finds himself in a game of cat and mouse with a student. With twists and turns throughout as the suspense builds, Burton plays a priest who hears a student's confession of a horrendous act. Unable to share his (Burton's) knowledge with the authorities, his desparate attempt to save himself may cost him everything."